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Central Ohio IFMA Chapter Members Honor Fire Prevention Week

     Last year, fire departments across the U.S. responded to a fire every 23 seconds. Of those calls, more than half a million were structure fires alone.

     According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the total number of fires that local municipal fire departments reported continues to be on a downward trend, decreasing by 21 percent. That’s the good news.

     But over the same time period (2015), the number of structure fires has remained relatively constant. That’s the bad news.

   And likely the worst news of all -- fires are still fatal. Over 3,000 people lost their lives last year as a result of a fire.

     Prevention, therefore, can have a huge impact on protecting properties – and saving lives. So on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, some two dozen Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members gathered at the Fawcett Center to learn more about fire prevention and compliance, presented by VFP Fire Systems of Columbus.  

     “The Ohio Fire Code requires building owners/contractor to comply with the requirements of the Ohio Fire Code Chapter 14, and the NFPA 241 Construction and Demolition Sites,” states a summary handed to Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members who attended the seminar. “The City of Columbus requires a fire protection plan to be developed by the building owner or designee, prior to obtaining a building, fire alarm, or sprinkler permit.

     “The approved plan and all codes must be followed with the project or a stop-work order may be issued.”

     But it’s not just in the planning stages that fire prevention and code is important. Every day that a building is in operation, and employees are walking within its walls, adhering to code is imperative.

     “Most of this is common sense,” said Russ Tate, Branch Manager for VFP Columbus, talking about knowing and adhering to code. It’s the building owner’s job (or designee employee) to provide availability for all inspections, testing, and maintenance, as well as any notification of shutdown or impairment of the building’s protection system, he said. This is not the responsibility of the building contractor or tenant. Corrections and repairs, as well as changes to the occupancy hazard, are also the owner’s responsibility (to be completed by a licensed fire technician).

     NFPA-25 2008 is the latest guidance for water-based fire prevention systems. NFPA-72 2010 addresses alarm systems, advised Tate.

     All wet systems must undergo three quarterly inspections and one annual inspection. Sandpipe and hose systems must also undergo annual inspections.

     Fire pumps require a bit more work. They are inspected annually, but require weekly maintenance. Electric fire pumps must be run for 10 minutes each week. Diesel must be run for 30 minutes each week, said Tate.

     Backflows are inspected annually as well.

     Internal investigations must also be completed so as to maintain the integrity of a water-based system. “Internal investigations need to occur every five years,” Tate told Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members, “by opening the flushing connection at the end of the main and removing one sprinkler head at the end of a branch line.” This is done because pipe scale, debris, and sediment can settle in the pipes over the years, causing blockage.

     “Whenever you have those conditions, it will prevent the system from operating the way it should,” said Tate, which could cost lives. The results of an internal investigation will determine, therefore, if flushing is necessary.

     He advised that the fire marshal will be inspecting as well.

   Other responsibilities include testing and possibly replacing gauges every five years; replacing wet sprinkler heads over 50 years old; replacing dry sprinkler heads every 10 years; and replacing quick-response sprinkler heads (in light hazard areas like office spaces) every 20 years.

     When it comes to alarm systems, the units need to be tested annually, including smoke and heat detectors, pull stations, and back-up batteries on panels. All fire extinguishers need to be inspected annually. And all kitchen hoods need inspection semi-annually.

     Tate also spent a significant amount of time addressing backflow problems which can be prevented through annual testing (call 614-645-6674 for help), preventing system impairments, and the importance of winterizing fire protection systems.

     Tate also advised that caluculation plates, while often overlooked, are imperative in giving valuable information when either changing tenants or storage arrangements.

     Violations of fire prevention codes and law can have far-reaching results. James Pearson, service manager for the local branch of VFP, cited a massive pallet fire in Columbus – which could have been avoided. Columbus inspectors determined previously that a commercial recycling building – the site of a May 2015 South Side fire -- was unsafe and that repairs had not been made. In fact, tightly packed stacks of wooden pallets that helped feed the inferno likely violated city codes. In addition to the unsafe pallet storage, the business had been operating for at least three years without the proper zoning or permit to run a salvage yard.

     The loss has been estimated at $8 million. Several fire departments battled the blaze for more than 34 hours before it was completely extinguished. Power was shut off to some 20,000 customers nearby as a precaution.

     The smoke from the fire could be seen for miles, and compromised driving conditions on a nearby highway.

     According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, some of the largest industrial fires in history have occurred when systems were out of service or impaired. That’s why they must be maintained in operational order, VFP presenters told Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members, and quickly repaired and returned to service when they are not.